Sunday, 5 September 2010

Rejection, Indigestion, and Unfinished Business

I keep seeing this Bernard Black clip around and it always cracks me up. We've all been there, and as long as we keep on writing we'll all go there again. Thank goodness for Laughter! And wine.

Of course, following my recent good news (blah blah, etc.), I’m feeling slightly braver about the dreaded R word right now, though only slightly. I can’t stop thinking about the many editors who said NO. But before you roll your eyes at this (and in keeping with my new warts-n-all approach to blogging), please hear me out. The fact is, having had time to mull over the whole submission process for my novel, I now see that I did something very stupid. So, Writer, let what follows be a warning to you.

My agent sent my ms out to nineteen individual editors. Some simply weren’t interested, and some didn’t even respond, but a good dozen or so gave thoughtful and informative responses to read while I fumbled with the corkscrew. Looking through those again I have spotted a theme, and I now finally understand something that people have been saying to me for a long time. Namely that you really can’t afford to submit work that isn’t as strong as you can possibly make it. Or in other words, if you feel that something could be improved in your own ms, for heartburn’s sake do something about it before you screw up your chance with an editor!

Several editors came close to actually spelling that out to me in their rejections, with comments such as “positive, positive, positive …but I just don’t have the time to work with the author on… example, example, example”. It’s the reference to lack of time that says it all. Why submit something that an editor thinks they’ll have to spend loads of time on?

Of course, it’s one thing to do this if you don’t realise you are doing it, but the point is I knew there was room for improvement and went ahead anyway. Why? Well, because I suppose my head had never really left 2006, when showing strong potential was still sufficient to interest a publisher. This was back when publishing was still confident and bullish (and solvent!) and when mid-listers could still be regarded as bestsellers waiting to happen. You know, back before hundreds of editors were made redundant and when bookshops could still paper over the cracks and smile.

You don’t need me to tell you that 2010 is a rubbish time to approach publishers, but it can’t hurt for me to say this: it’s never been easier for an editor (or, by extension, an agent) to say no. Therefore, it’s never been more important to avoid giving them obvious excuses to say it! Even if this does mean many months of extra work.

And after all, 2011 might just be better. Let's drink to that.


  1. I've been thinking about this a lot lately - ahem, can't think why... - and I'm submitting less generally, not that I've submitted much I must point out, because it dawned on me that I want anything out there with my name attached to be the very best it can be. It is my reputation after all.

    Really good to be reminded, Thomas, and it is reassuring and endearing that you are humble enough to share your learning curve with us.

    Thank you.

    Bums up to 2011!

  2. Miaou!!!!!!!!!!!! Oh, brave of you to say this.

  3. Yes, bums up indeed. Thanks Rachel. And thanks to you too Cat. I don't think I'm being particularly brave, but I hope I'm being a bit honest. I won't always show my warts though, so make the most of it:)

  4. Great advice, great video clip. I loved Black Books. I'm off to do some editing now ...

  5. Haha, The vid was so funny. Your post also, but then serious, and true!

    What a great way to end the Labor Day weekend. Reading this post. And labor, we do.

    Yes,to 2011, *clink*!

  6. Thanks, Simon. Good luck with the editing.

    Terry, labor indeed. In fact, as it's laboUr for me, there's even more to do, ho ho:)

  7. That is great advice. We really do have to make our work the best that we can! I just came over from Kate's blog.

  8. A fascinating insight. Here's to 2011!!

  9. So what if you're one of those self hypercritical personalities and you never think anything is good enough, that there is ALWAYS room for improvement. And don't say look for positive comments from betas because this fictious self
    hyper critical person thinks that most positive comments are people just being nice.

  10. Thanks for commenting, Angie. And thanks to you too, Kate, for commenting and for mentioning me on your blog.

    Thanks Anita. It is difficult to be satisfied with ones own work, but that's probably a good thing. A good honest Beta reader is beyond price though.

  11. Did your agent not pull you up about the perceived deficiencies in your ms? Or did she think it was absolutely fine and ready to go?

    I've only had one agent so it's very hard to compare. All I know is that she is as demanding as I am of my work and that is both a satisfying and exhausting way to work. By comparison, I recently delivered many rewritten chapters to an editor and she didn't ask for a single change!

    Anyway, to find a point in all this, my ms had been exhaustively worked over by three people and I still got as many rejections as you did. I think if you can get the book to the right people, they will be prepared to overlook the faults. So don't stress it.

  12. Thanks, Nick. My agent did go through the text with me, and I did make a lot of changes as a result. But the point is, I'm just one of many clients and an agent doesn't have the time an editor manages to find to really get into the nuts and bolts of a ms. In the end, it was my responsibility to correct the deficiencies that I'd noticed, but I let things go because together they amounted to a substantial re-write and I couldn't stomach it. And lo and behold, here I am making what amounts to the very same re-write I should have done earlier, covering most of the same points.

    Oh, well. I live and learn.


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